Takeaways from Arizona’s 45-38 loss to Hawaii
Arizona’s defense is…worse? I never believed Arizona was going to have a great or even good defense, but I thought they could be a little bit better and maybe even mediocre. If Saturday night is any indication, they are actually worse.
Even more baffling was some of the scheme choices by (presumably) Marcel Yates. For two and a half quarters the defense rushed three on nearly every play, getting minimal pressure on Hawaii QBs. They blitzed sparingly, and mostly ineffectively.
Maybe the worst aspect of the defense was the coverage. Whether they were in zone or man, there were open spaces for Hawaii’s receivers to run free. I did think the corner backs did an alright job containing the underneath outside throws, but those still gave Hawaii easy gains of 4-6 yards.
The positive was that Arizona forced six turnovers. I need to go back and look more at the tape, but my feeling is that about half were very good plays by the Arizona defense and half were bad plays by the Hawaii offense.
Can the defense get better? Of course it can. Arizona has two weeks to prepare for NAU and shake off this abysmal performance. Will they? I have no idea. I don’t have a lot of faith in Marcel Yates at this point.
Khalil Tate was…decent. I have been a critic of Tate. I don’t think he is a great passer and I have questioned his ability to be a leader. That being said, he played a pretty good game. Yes, he missed way too many easy throws, especially on first down. He threw a terrible pick in the redzone that may have cost Arizona the game and he still makes some curious decisions when running the ball.
On a positive, he hit a lot of wide-open receivers in the middle of the field, something he has consistently failed to do throughout his career. He cut down his reliance on the deep ball and worked the middle of the field as good as I have seen.
Once he started running more, things opened up for the Arizona offense. His decision to actually try to make things happen with his legs not only improved the passing game, but got the Arizona running game going and the offense became more effective with a modicum of balance.
Does this mean that Tate has turned a corner? Consider me pessimistic. For the most part Tate has put up really good numbers against non-Power 5 teams.
The offensive line is…meh. I though with the return of three starters, adding Robert Congel and some other new faces that Arizona had a chance to have a good offensive line this year. I thought depth was a concern but the top-5 or so would be fine. So far, the results are not good. The line failed to get the best of the Hawaii defensive front and while they never really hit Tate, he had pressure on him for much of the night and was flushed from the pocket on several occasion. It is not time to push the panic button on this group, but I am very worried what a big, strong, talented defensive line will do against Arizona.
The wide receivers were…pretty good. Jamarye Joiner had a nice evening and for the most part the receivers were reliable (save for Drew Dixon’s drop that led to a pick). Stanley Berryhill had a very nice game as well. Maybe the biggest surprise was Tayvian Cunningham. The junior college transfer was a late addition to the recruiting class, and we did not hear a lot about him during fall camp. He had four catches for 65 yards, including a few late in the fourth quarter.
Just five receivers caught passes, plus a tight end (they exist!) Additionally, Tate also threw to a trio of running backs. Overall, the unit was solid but there was no breakout player. The Cats are going to need a receiver or two to really emerge if they are going to be successful.
Special Teams was…a mess. J.J. Taylor really struggled returning kicks, including several odd fair catches in and around the endzone. I do not remember a deep back calling for a fair catch in that situation. Taylor also had a bad fair catch in the fourth quarter on a punt return when it did not appear, he needed to and may have had a nice running lane in front of him. Matt Aragon was brutal in the punt game, averaging just 34 yards a kick, but had to rush a few because of pressure up the middle that never seemed to get properly addressed.
All of that might be acceptable had it not been for the bizarre sequence in the fourth quarter on a field goal attempt. Arizona committed three straight penalties, a delay of game and two false starts, that turned a 38-yard field goal into a 53-yard field goal. Even worse, the sequence caused Arizona to burn a timeout that in hindsight might have given them one more play if used correctly on defense. When I first watched the game, I thought at least one of the false starts were due to a Hawaii player entering the neutral zone. While there was a lot of movement, Kevin Sumlin believes the Hawaii players may have been simulating the snap count, causing freshman Jordan Morgan to jump,
On the plus side, Lucas Havrisik not only nailed the kick but made two previous kicks that did not count due to the flags.
Brad Allis is an award winning journalist who has been covering University of Arizona athletics since grunge was a thing. His debut novel King of Calamity is available now. Follow him on Twitter at @WSRBrad.